Understanding the FAFSA® Process for Parents
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form is the student’s responsibility, but when a student is considered a dependent student for FAFSA purposes, parents have a large role in the application process. Educate yourself about the process and opportunities so you can provide the guidance your child needs to do their part.
Your child can apply for not only federal student aid but also student aid from states and schools with the FAFSA form. Do You Need Money for College or Career School? is a great resource to check out first.
Many types of student aid are available. Encourage your child to prioritize grants and scholarships before money that must be paid back, such as loans.
It is important to understand whether a child is considered a dependent student and who is defined as a parent for FAFSA purposes.
Before Filling Out the FAFSA® Form
You and your child each need to gather these documents:
- Social Security number or Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen but an eligible noncitizen
- Federal income tax returns, W-2s, and/or other records of money earned. If you’re applying in the 2023─24 Award Year, use your 2021 tax return and other documents.
- You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into the FAFSA form using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT).
- Both parents or the student and spouse may need to report income on the FAFSA form if they did not file a joint tax return. For assistance with answering the income information questions, call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
If you or your family have unusual circumstances that should be taken into account, contact your school’s financial aid office. For example, an unusual circumstance could be unique medical or dental expenses or a large change in income not reflected in your tax information.
Learn what to do if your family’s economic situation changed.
You and your child will need the following items:
- An FSA ID, an account username and password, is used to sign the application. You and your child each need to create your own FSA ID. (Only one of a student’s parents needs to sign the student’s FAFSA form, so only one parent needs an FSA ID.)
- A save key, which only your child needs, is a temporary password that lets you return to a partially completed FAFSA form. If you and your child are accessing the FAFSA from different locations, your child should do his or her part and then share the save key with you.
Filling Out the FAFSA® Form
The FAFSA form is available on Oct. 1 for the next school year.
The FAFSA form should be submitted as soon as possible because funds are limited. States and schools use FAFSA information to award their aid, and state or school deadlines may be earlier.
Multiple ways to complete the FAFSA form are available:
- Log in at fafsa.gov to fill it out online.
- Complete a FAFSA PDF for the award year you’re applying for (note: you must print out and mail the FAFSA PDF for processing).
- In some cases, your child’s school may submit the FAFSA form for him or her.
The FAFSA form is your child’s application, so keep in mind when it says “you,” it means “you, the student.”
Use the following resources if you need help while completing the FAFSA form:
- Watch the How to Fill Out the FAFSA® Form video.
- Select the white question mark icon next to a question to view a “tooltip.”
- Visit the “FAFSA Help” page, where you can view trending FAFSA topics, browse FAQs, or search for more information.
- Contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center to chat with, email, or phone live support staff in English or Spanish.
- Contact the financial aid office at the college or career school your child plans to attend.
Once your child’s FAFSA form is submitted, the “Confirmation” page will appear on the screen. Depending on your state, you may find a link to your state’s financial aid application here.
Using this link, your child can transfer information into the state aid application. If you have more than one child attending college or career school and you’re logged in as the parent, you can transfer your parent information into your other child’s FAFSA form using the option on this page.
An emailed confirmation should arrive within days after your child’s application has been processed and sent to the school. Read carefully and print and/or save it. Note: Some differences exist between the onscreen page and the emailed confirmation.
The information you and your child report on the FAFSA form is used to calculate your child’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which
- measures your family’s financial capacity,
- determines how much federal student aid your child may be eligible for,
- and may also be used by your state and the schools listed to determine grant and scholarship eligibility.
Your child will receive an EFC on the Student Aid Report (SAR), which summarizes their FAFSA information. Using the FAFSA information and EFC, the financial aid office will determine the amount of aid your child may receive.
Learn how the EFC is calculated.
After the FAFSA® Form
You and your child will receive emails confirming that the FAFSA form has been processed. It takes about three days for the FAFSA form to be processed and sent to the school.
Learn how to check the application status online. You can also check your application by phone at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). If you submitted a paper FAFSA form, you can check the status after it has been processed (seven to ten days from date mailed).
After your child’s application is processed, he or she will receive the Student Aid Report (SAR). Review your child’s SAR to ensure his or her FAFSA information is correct and complete. If necessary, make corrections.
During the winter or spring, your child will receive aid offers from schools. Help your child understand and compare the offers.
Encourage your child to read all communications from the school carefully and to supply additional information, forms, or signatures needed by the school’s deadlines.